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not the Friday we were expecting

So yesterday I was doing something interesting and productive--studying Objective-C perhaps--and as these things often happen, I slowly became aware of the sounds of helicopters and sirens in our general vicinity here in the Mission and because it is the Mission I mostly shrugged but out of idle curiosity dialed in the police radio app I have on my iPod and although it was not broadcasting a particularly clear signal I managed to pick out the words "fire near Twentieth and South Van Ness" and I thought well that's kind of close so it might be worth finding a source of more specific information but they kept repeating "South Van Ness" so I was not too worried yet.

So I googled fire mission district breaking and I got back links about a fire currently being fought in the Mission and I clicked on one and it said the fire was on Capp Street which is the street between us and Van Ness so I am hoping it was across the street or at least across the intersection but after a moment of noting that odd addresses are on the East side of North-South streets and that this was an even numbered address I googled the number and saw that it was basically across the alley and about two doors north of us so I thought oh shit!

I looked out the kitchen window which faces the alley but could not even see smoke but the view out that window is blocked by our back stairwell which is enclosed. I figured not seeing or smelling smoke was a good sign as was the absence of firefighters telling me to leave my house but still I grabbed my keys and dashed outside to see exactly where the fire was and whether it looked like we were in any danger.

By this time I was a little bit shook because I have been in an apartment fire that destroyed most of the building and it scared the crap out of me that the houses are so close together here that any large fire can easily spread.

I made my way through the crowd that had gathered by this time and took a look at the building that was burning and after watching the firefighters for a few minutes I could see that they had it contained by then and I could see a bit better just how close it was and it seemed to me that the worst had already passed and that I would probably get a better view by finding a live video feed online so I came back home and did that.

It took them about another hour to put it out completely. It was very interesting to see what they had done. When our building burned in Seattle it seemed that the main method of fighting the fire was just to dump a bunch of water on it but here the firefighters were crawling all over the roof of the building where the fire started. Apparently one of the first things they did was to chop a large hole in the middle of the roof to draw the air and the fire back to the center from the back of the building so that it was no longer threatening the buildings behind it.

They also had very quickly stripped the tar paper shingles off of the roofs of the house where the fire started and the house next door which had also begun to burn. It seemed to work; the pics I found online of the fire as it was when the fire trucks got there were quite different from the fire I saw. It seems that fighting fires in a densely built city is a science as well as a technique.

By the time the fire was out my attention span was completely shot. As I had left to go check on its proximity I thought to myself well my day just changed irrevocably.

It had, although I am sure the people living in the upstairs unit of the building that burned had a much worse day than I did. Apparently nobody was hurt but they do not always include animals in the injury lists although they sometimes do. I was a bit distracted though so did some deliberate relaxation exercises to try to calm myself a bit. The rest of my conscious day was spent idly surfing the internet.

Today I had to go find food which meant leaving the house to just the animals for a couple of hours which always stresses me out a little but today made me very anxious. I walked past the burnt houses and could smell the smell of ashy sodden wood and plaster. Nothing else smells that way--not freshly cut wood and not a fire in the fireplace.

Fire paints the inside and outside of a building in a matte black that absorbs every bit of light that hits it. When our building burned the back was so dark that it frightened me to go all the way down the hall to our bedroom and so I was unable to clean anything up back there but fortunately Lisa was not particularly freaked out by it so she willingly sifted through the nondescript soggy gray piles for clothing and other items. I cannot explain why it scared me so much. We were ok, our cats were ok, and the most we lost was some crappy Salvation Army furniture. But the inside of that pitch dark building seemed to awaken a memory I did not know that I had of someplace harrowing that only shows up in my memory as the essence of terror. I honestly have no idea what it is that recalls itself to me in that form.

And the smell of wet, burned out buildings is now all entwined with this memory that is not a memory. I sometimes associate it with the tinfoil simulation of hell in that church play we saw when I was little and I do not know if it was dark in between flashes of what was supposed to represent lightning and flames but in my dreams hell is a deep basement underneath so many strata of rock that it is ageless in its extent in both time and space. Sometimes it is dark but more often it swirls with lurid red and yellow light. Sometimes it is strangely beautiful and fascinating.

I hope that the people who lived where the fire was had a better day today. For about six weeks after our place burned it seemed that anything at all might happen at any moment. As is almost always the case, at that time we were being regaled with some Nostradamus end of the world prophecy and although neither of us believed in such things prior to the fire they seemed entirely within the realm of imagination afterward. I would not have been happy had a judgment day been calculated by some paranoid prophet around the time of our fire, but the world did not come to an end back then so I doubt it will this go round either except for the "forty thousand men and women everyday" for whom it will end regardless of what happens to those who remain.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
That seems understandable -- that this event would ring all those bells for you about the fire that destroyed your place in the past -- and also that it would ring some about the "hell" messages of your youth.

I resonate to that feeling, after a disaster, that "anything could happen now at any time." I felt that way after my brother died 30+ years ago, and I felt it for a long time. I even felt it a bit after the enormous silver maple tree fell into our front yard a few weeks ago. It (seemingly miraculously) did not damage either our house or our car (although it brushed the house), but it was a sobering thing indeed!
May. 17th, 2011 03:49 am (UTC)
Yeah there have been enough unexpected and unwanted occurrences in my life that my confidence in the future is about shot. Interestingly, in Zen Buddhism the whole bit about letting go has to do with those things that hold us secure in the belief that we are indeed secure, and thus no longer grasping after security is actually a kind of freedom.

Still, I find it a little scary to try to be that unattached to comfort and predictability. I am a human animal and we seem to want more security than the world offers.

And then I start to wonder whether animal intelligence coupled with animal sensitivity was that bright an idea. Guess it doesn't matter. Here we are, after all.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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